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Smithtown High senior, service dog crowned homecoming kings

Steven Heimerle, 18, of St. James, and his service dog, Duke, were crowned homecoming kings on Oct. 12, 2019 at halftime of the homecoming football game against Copiague High School. Credit: Newsday / Kendall Rodriguez

This year, Smithtown High School West has two homecoming kings.

Steven Heimerle, a senior with autism, a seizure disorder and developmental delays, and Duke, his service dog.

Duke and Heimerle, 18, of St. James, were crowned Saturday at halftime of the homecoming football game against Copiague High School.

Heimerle, wearing a sash and blue crown,  led the chocolate Labrador retriever to  midfield where he stood beside homecoming queen Meghan Deery. Hundreds of fans cheered while the pair Heimerle and Deery posed for photos.

Heimerle, who is tall and is almost always smiling, said before the game that he was shocked Friday when he learned at a pep rally that he had beat out the four other nominees.

“I think it truly emphasizes how wonderful our student body is,” said Principal John Coady during the first half of the game. “They genuinely love Steven and his animal.”

Heimerle received Duke about three years ago from Operation Freedom Paws, a California-based nonprofit.

The lab quickly became a vital part of the family, Heimerle’s mother, Cindy Heimerle said. Duke gave her some peace of mind, allowing her to get a full night’s sleep for the first time in 15 years.

“I didn’t have to be on edge,” she said. “I knew Duke would come wake me up."

The lab is trained to alert Heimerle when he is about to have a seizure by pushing his paws on his chest and easing him to the ground so he doesn’t fall and injure himself when he begins to seize. Duke also monitors Heimerle’s blood sugar and will lick his palms reminding him to eat or drink.

Heimerle said having the dog by his side has helped him grow and become more confident. It was only fitting the lab be beside him Saturday.

“I was very, very shy,” Heimerle said. “In ninth through 12th grade I’ve changed so much because of Duke.”

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